A legal professional mental health series by Senior Fellow Don Blackwell of Bowman and Brooke, LLP, in Orlando, Florida
Author’s Note: My experience has been that men, especially male trial lawyers, struggle with the idea of vulnerability and expressing their feelings. I suspect it is a “learned” characteristic, especially in members of my generation whose fathers seldom modeled what vulnerability looks like. Rarer still is the man who would ever consider crying in public. Not me. I do it all the time. I happen to believe it is much healthier to feel it all, than not feel at all or, worse yet, to numb. So, at the risk of having to check my “man card” if not retire it completely, I offer the following reflection – torn from the pages of real life!
“Life is way too short to hide in shameful silence over feeling emotions we don’t want others to know we have.” Alison Smela
I cry in public – a lot. I was reminded of that truth (for the umpteenth time) recently, while having dinner (alone) at the bar of a local Texas Roadhouse. In retrospect, I suppose I should’ve known better than to use the space between virtually inhaling half of the pail of peanuts and the entire basket of piping hot honey-buttered biscuits in front of me and the arrival of my actual dinner to pull up my friend, Rachel Macy Stafford’s latest post on my phone. I’ve certainly read enough of them to know that I seldom make it through the opening paragraph before what I’ve affectionately dubbed #RachelTears begin streaming down my face, which is why I generally wait until I’m alone and in a quiet place to read them. So, it was little surprise when, less than halfway through “Advice for those Reaching Through Cages” https://tinyurl.com/y3pc5mdp, there was a warm parade of them marching down both of my cheeks. What did surprise me, however, was how I reacted to them, how I tried to hide them from the other patrons at the bar and the servers who’d come to recognize me and grown accustomed to a much more cheerful disposition. After all, while a quick glance around the restaurant confirmed the obvious (i.e., that there weren’t many (okay any) other 63 year-old male patrons at Texas Roadhouse (or female patrons for that matter!) with tears streaming down their face), it was hardly the first time I’d ever cried in a restaurant or read something that touched my heart.
Truth is: I’ve cried in all kinds of places and for all kinds of reasons. I’ve cried for friends and loved ones who are hurting – and strangers for that matter. I’ve cried in the dugout of a little league baseball game over a first hit and on the field when one of my players, in tears himself, confided that his mom and dad were getting a divorce. I’ve cried in a BBQ dive in Iowa after reading words written by a friend who was convinced the world would be a better place if she disappeared from it and in a crowded Starbuck’s just outside Baltimore at a beautiful young woman’s inability to see the remarkableness of her spirit. I’ve cried over chips and salsa in a Mexican cantina overlooking San Antonio’s Riverwalk, and over Caesar salads with chicken at The Clubhouse in Chicago – in conversations I wished would never end, but which couldn’t have ended soon enough for the unfortunate servers who we ultimately “scared” away. I’ve cried at chorale performances and plays, in horse barns, at golf tournaments, at my office desk, at award ceremonies, conference presentations, book events, movies, concerts – and on too many commercial aircraft to recount. I’ve even cried in conference rooms and depositions packed with hardened trial attorneys and at the sight of a young couple in an upscale Dallas steakhouse consumed with each other. I’ve cried over injustices and, more recently, for the little boy in me who it seems never really cried enough, because he was afraid of tears, if not ashamed and embarrassed by them.
For a moment last Sunday night that shy little boy, the one who too often was ridiculed for wearing his heart on his sleeve, reappeared. He wanted to hide. He wanted to run away from his tears. Only this time, I recognized him – immediately – and I smiled to myself. You see, the grown up me is glad I cry, in private and in public. Somewhere along the way, I decided that I’d much rather feel everything, even though it sometimes means enduring prolonged periods of sadness, than not feel at all. I decided that I’d swallowed my emotions (all of them) long enough, boxed them up and tried to hide them on a shelf, pretended they weren’t there – hoped that if I just ignored them long enough they’d go away. I’d even thought about numbing them a time or two and, if I’m to be honest, on occasion I still do. In the process, however, I denied who I am, why I’m here – one of the central gifts I have to offer. I feel Life acutely and intensely. It’s a blessing and a curse. But, it’s the blessing piece that makes it worthwhile. The ability, borne of a highly-sensitized and needy heart, to spot a heart in need a mile away and the insatiable desire to offer it comfort. Perhaps Glennon Doyle captured it best in this exchange with one of her many followers who asked, “G, Why do you cry so often?” To which Glennon responded, “For the same reason I laugh so often. Because I’m paying attention!”
Who cries at Texas Roadhouse? I do and it occurs to me there’s no shame in that. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For more information on the Mental Health benefits of crying check out these resources:
Donald A. Blackwell has been a trial attorney for nearly 40 years. He currently is Of Counsel to Bowman and Brooke, LLP, where he devotes the majority of his practice to defending product manufacturers and distributors in complex product liability cases in state, federal, and appellate courts across the country. More recently, Don has spearheaded a campaign aimed at shining a light on the myriad of mental health issues disproportionately impacting the legal profession and the corresponding need for a higher level of Compassionate Professionalism among its members.
Don also dedicates a significant amount of his energies to supporting and advocating for individuals and families affected by eating disorders. He has authored multiple works on the subject and is frequently called upon to speak at local, regional and national eating disorder conferences and webinars. In 2020, Don organized and hosted the “Legacy of Hope Summit” - a first of its kind symposium attended by 25 of the country’s most highly-respected experts in the eating disorders field aimed at arriving at a blueprint for the path forward in the care and treatment of those diseases.
Don has been an LCA Fellow for the past 10 years and was a 2014 recipient of the LCA's Peter Perlman Service Award.